Horse riding and showing are sports that don’t seem to get as much recognition as they could – especially when one considers the long hours, dedication and skill that is put into a horse show.
Jenna Salmon, 17, has given up countless hours, taking time away from friends, family and any spare time to hone her skills with her horse, Gina.
“(Riding) teaches you a lot of responsibility. I’ve met a lot of my friends through this and they’re like my second family. It’s very time consuming and I’m away from home a lot, and miss a lot of school but it is definitely worth it.
“Keeping your nerves down and showing to your best is the hardest part. Also, being ready on time and not being stressed out.”
Salmon competes in a variety of categories. Those include showmanship, hunt seat, which is an English style with English saddle and attire, hunter under saddle which is a rail class so she is told what to do by judges, and another pattern class where she is taught a pattern and is to avoid cones for points.
She also competes in several western riding categories such as lead changes where she does patterns up and down an arena; trail, where she avoids obstacles; western pleasure, where she is directed by judges for what to show and western horsemanship which is a pattern.
Patterns mean a horse is to go from walking to jogging to loping all while executing precise turns and footing.
Recently Salmon took to the Westerner Grounds in Red Deer to compete in a youth all-around event and the Shannon Burwash Memorial non-pro-western pleasure futurity, placing third in the non-pro futurity category. Her horse, Gina, won highpoint senior horse.
“A lot of people think showing horses isn’t a sport, but the hours we put into it – it’s such late nights and early mornings. It’s intense. People think that you’re just sitting there but you’re not,” said Salmon.
“You have to use your legs, and know what you’re doing and you have to sit properly, look like you’re presenting well. That’s what a lot of people don’t know – they think you just sit there and it’s boring, but it’s not.”
Earlier this year, Salmon went to Texas for the Youth World Cup.
“It was really cool and very different. It was different than any other horse show I’ve done. You don’t ride your own horse, you’re on a team with people you don’t know and the coaches are different,” she said.
“But, it was really rewarding because I learned a lot, and a lot of life lessons actually. In showmanship, I got sixth and eighth. The hardest part was not knowing the horses and only having a few days to get to know them before you show them.”
Youth Worlds were difficult for Salmon also because she was completely unfamiliar with the coaches and other members of her team.
“You have to go in there and you’re competing for your team, so you don’t want to let them down, yet you’re trying to figure stuff out for yourself on your own. It was a bit of a challenge but by the end of it we were all good friends.”
A lot of work goes into a show.
Setting up stalls, filling them with loads of hay, bathing, braiding and training takes up a lot of time. Horses have to be lunged – exercised – before they can be ridden and practiced with. If a horse gets dirty, it means another bath and braid session. At night, the horse’s legs have to be wrapped and receive a sort of pain medication rub so that they don’t get sore. Riders are up as early as 5:30 a.m. for shows at 7 a.m. and throughout the day have to change saddles, costumes and stances.
“We show all day long and when we’re done, we clean our horses up again and do it all again. It’s a whole big process. At the end, we pack everything back up and take down what we put up.”
Salmon loves what she does, but admits that sometimes it is hard, especially when people don’t realize how much of her time she dedicates to her sport.
Riding is one of the only times she can see her best friend and she often misses her family while on the road competing.
The life of an equestrian athlete, in all varieties of riding, is tough. Salmon is continuing to train and compete knowing that all of her hard work will eventually pay off in pride and accomplishment.